To boldly brand: Nasa may sell naming rights for spaceships

It was once the final frontier, mysterious and unknown. Now space could become yet another domain in the battle between corporates for brand recognition. 

Nasa’s top official Jim Bridenstine has revealed that the body is considering letting companies buy the naming rights to its rockets and spaceships. 

He has also suggested that Nasa astronauts – officially government employees – may be allowed to appear on the side of cereal boxes.

It is part of a drive towards “commercialisation”, seen by its backers as a way to bring down the costs of space exploration while boosting efficiency. 

However the embrace of the private sector has created a backlash among some former astronauts who likened the proposals to the sound of “nails on a chalkboard”. 

Jim Bridenstine, the Nasa administrator Credit:
REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Donald Trump, a property tycoon before winning the presidency, has encouraged Nasa to look at boosting the private sector’s involvement in its work.

Mr Bridenstine, the Nasa administrator, floated some ideas for how commercialisation could work during at a meeting of the Nasa advisory council last month. 

“Is it possible for Nasa to offset some of its costs by selling the naming rights to its spacecraft, or the naming rights to its rockets?” Mr Bridenstine asked. 

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“I’m telling you there is interest in that right now. The question is: Is it possible? The answer is: I don’t know, but we want somebody to give us advice on whether it is.”

He also said: "I’d like to see kids growing up, instead of maybe wanting to be like a professional sports star, I’d like to see them grow up wanting to be a Nasa astronaut, or a Nasa scientist.

Branding attempts in space are not entirely new. Pizza Hut once painted its logo on a Russian rocket in 1999, while an Israeli milk company filmed an advert on the space station Mir. 

In the early 1990s, the company Space Marketing Inc proposed launching a floating billboard half-a-mile wide into space that could be viewed from the Earth. 

The idea left US politicians unimpressed. Edward Markey, a congressman from Massachusetts, proposed banning adverts in space, saying he did not want children wishing “upon a falling billboard”. 

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